I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Jonathan Schell, a distinguished writer and journalist and a long-time member of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Advisory Council. Jonathan was one of the most talented, thoughtful and moral writers of our time. His first book, The Village of Ben Suc, published in 1967, reported on U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. He went on to write many more important books, including The Fate of the Earth, in which he described in elegant prose the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons. This 1982 book became a classic and in 1999 was selected by a panel of experts convened by New York University as one of the 20th century’s 100 best works of journalism.
Schell was also a ferocious critic of those who would threaten the planet with nuclear weapons. In 2003, he received the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award. His acceptance speech was entitled, “There Is Something in this World that Does Not Love an Empire.” He concluded his speech by stating, “The point I want to leave you with is not only that violence is futile, but that the antidote and cure – nonviolent political action, direct or indirect, revolutionary or reformist, American or other – has been announced. May we apply it soon to our troubled country and world.” He elaborated on this theme in his 2003 book, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People.
Schell was a fighter for peace and a nuclear weapons-free world. He carried on this struggle in his writing, his teaching (at Yale, Princeton, NYU and other top universities) and his activism. He stood for what is true and just and, in doing so, punctured many of the myths about America’s place in the world, from its immoral and illegal war in Vietnam to its immoral and illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He never wavered from his belief that in the Nuclear Age humanity had placed itself on the endangered species list and to cure this situation required the abolition of all nuclear weapons on the planet.
Always concerned about morality and the human future, Schell wrote, “The moral cost of nuclear armament is that it makes of all of us underwriters of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of people and of the cancellation of future generations.”
He also warned, “With each year that passes, nuclear weapons provide their possessors with less safety while provoking more danger. The walls dividing the nations of the two-tiered [nuclear] world are crumbling.”
Humanity has lost a true moral beacon and modern day prophet.